Zaha Hadid and Tina Brown Discuss Architecture, Feminism, and More

Zaha Hadid talks to Tina Brown about modernism, feminism, and a woman’s place in a male-dominated field.

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In a compelling conversation hosted by Credit Suisse and the Newsweek/Daily Beast company, Zaha Hadid, renowned architect—and the first female recipient of the coveted Pritzker Prize (known in architecture circles as the equivalent of the Nobel Prize)—sat down with editor Tina Brown for a frank conversation that covered everything from modernism as an unfinished project to the difficulty of getting a day of rest.

“Other architects think about walls and floors, about inside spaces and outside spaces, but since her first student projects, Hadid has exploded those safe, old distinctions,” Brown said during her introduction. “You can’t pin Hadid to a signature style, because, like her buildings, she will not stand still.”

On Monday evening, she sat still long enough to discuss her childhood in Iraq, her early years as an architect, and her ongoing projects around the world. But clad in all black, with a tunic-length jacket of gleaming gold cloth woven with silver thread and mirrored plates the size of silver dollars that reflected light off the ceilings and floors—occasionally throwing laserlike beams into the eyes of those in the audience—she maintained the impression of constant motion.

The assembled audience was rife with fellow lauded architects, including Mohsen Mostafavi, dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Design; and fellow Pritzker winner Thom Mayne. And while the language of architecture may have been common ground for many in the room, for Brown and Hadid, it was the shared experience of being women at the top of male-dominated fields that provided fertile ground.

“You’ve been called a diva,” Brown noted to Hadid, not for the first time.

“If I was a guy they would think I’m just opinionated,” Hadid responded with a sigh. “But as a woman, I’m ‘difficult.’ I mean, I can’t change sex.”

“I can relate to that,” Brown responded, prompting a flurry of applause.

Another relatable point came when Hadid was asked by an audience member about her next challenge, or “the next boundary” she wants to push. “To have a holiday,” she said with a sigh.

The wildly successful trailblazer is, it seems, as grounded in the day to day as any of us. And as for the notion that she is a “diva”? Well, Hina Jamelle, a professor of architecture at the University of Pennsylvania who worked for Hadid some two decades ago when the firm had just a handful of employees, categorically rejects the notion.

“She’s the most loyal person,” Jamelle said after the dinner. “In any given crossroads in my life she has pushed me to take risks and dive into the deep end. As a woman and someone who sees her as an ‘aunt,’ she’s someone who has been tremendously supportive.”

“It’s also a profession that doesn’t have many women,” she continued. “Maybe there’s just more work to be done.”